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Wednesday, April 7, 2010 as of 11:14 AM ET

Terrorism

Mike Levine

Washington, DC

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Ft. Hood Attack Publicly Called “Terrorism”

February 24, 2010 - 2:07 PM | by: Mike Levine
Janet Napolitano

Janet Napolitano

Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano has become the first Obama Administration official to publicly describe last year’s deadly shootings at Ft. Hood, Tex., as a terrorist act, according to a search of news clips and transcripts.

“Violent Islamic terrorism … was part and parcel of the Ft. Hood killings,” Napolitano told the Senate Homeland Security Committee on Wednesday morning. “There is violent Islamic terrorism, be it Al Qaeda in Pakistan, Afghanistan, Yemen or anywhere else, [and] that is indeed a major focus of this department and its efforts.”

In the months since an Army psychiatrist — who had been in contact with a radical Muslim cleric in Yemen — opened fired inside the Army base, many on Capitol Hill have urged administration officials to publicly identify the attack as terrorism.

Those calls have been used by Republicans and others to paint administration officials as weak on terrorism and subsequently unwilling to use the word “terrorism.”

During the Senate hearing on Wednesday morning, Sen. Joe Lieberman (I-CT), the Homeland Security Committee’s chairman, called the administration’s “reluctance” to use terms such as “Islamist extremism” or “Muslim terrorist” a “pet peeve of mine.”

He said his “concern” about the issue was “aroused again” when an internal Pentagon review of the events leading up to the attack by Army Maj. Nidal Hasan on Nov. 5, 2009, never used such terms.

Lieberman asked Napolitano: “Has the administration made a decision to avoid any public reference to ‘violent Islamist extremism’ or ‘Muslim terrorists’?”

Napolitano denied any such move.

“There has been no such decision,” she said. “The [phrase] that you refer to, ‘violent Islamic terrorism,’ is something that we fight and deal with every day at the Department of Homeland Security. There is no doubt about that. It was the motivation [for the failed Christmas Day bombing], it was part and parcel of the Ft. Hood killings and other incidents we have seen this year within the United States.”

This comes a month after a senior Obama Administration official characterized the Ft. Hood attack, which killed 13 people and wounded dozens more, as “an act of terrorism.” But that official did not want to be identified publicly, speaking to reporters only on the condition of anonymity.

The same day, shortly after the internal Pentagon report was released, Defense Secretary Robert Gates declined to characterize the attack as terrorism, saying he did not want to disrupt an ongoing legal case.

“I’m not going to go there,” he told reporters.

Five days later, on Jan. 20, FBI Director Robert Mueller told the Senate Judiciary Commitee about “threats from home grown extremists,” including “the tragic shootings at Ft. Hood.”

At Wednesday’s Senate hearing, Lieberman, who has repeatedly described the Ft. Hood shootings as “terrorism,” said he “appreciated” Napolitano doing the same.

In fact, he said, hesitating to acknowledge or identify Islamic terrorism could ultimately work against the religion.

“I don’t think we do a favor to Muslim Americans or people who are followers of Islam anywhere in the world by not saying that this is an extreme expression — a violent expression — of one of the world’s great religions,” Lieberman said. “It is not Islam as most Muslims practice it, and as most of us who are not Muslim know it. … We’re not at war with Islam, we’re at war with a particular extremist violent terrorist expression, which in my opinion is a corruption, a perversion, of Islam. And we ought to be willing to say so.”

Napolitano agreed, saying simply, “Indeed.”

During his remarks, Lieberman acknowledged that the Department of Homeland Security “has to be concerned about” many types of terrorism unrelated to Islam, including extremist acts by white supremacists, animal rights activists and environmental activists.

The exchange about the use of the phrase “Islamic terrorism,” during a nearly two-hour hearing focusing on the DHS budget, lasted less than five minutes.

Napolitano has often used the word “terrorism,” including several times during her Senate confirmation hearing more than a year ago. But she, like others in the Obama Administration, has rarely referred to “Islamic terrorism.”

Hasan, paralyzed from the waist down after being injured during the attack, has been charged with 13 counts of premeditated murder and 32 counts of attempted murder.

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